By Gavin Mortimer
RONAN O’GARA arrives in Paris this coming weekend to begin his post-playing career as kicking coach for Racing Métro. The Ireland and Munster legend, who scored 1083 points in 130 international appearances, has been hired by the Parisian club to work alongside coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers. It’s an all-new coaching team at Racing and owner Jackie Lorenzetti will be hoping the triumvirate can finally turn his team into Top 14 title contenders.
If all goes well for O’Gara, and he shows the same diligence and determination as a coach that he did as a player, it will likely be the first step on a path that will end with him coaching Ireland. Before then, however, O’Gara might have a thing or two to teach the French about goalkicking. At Racing he’ll be working predominantly with Johnny Sexton, his old rival for the Ireland fly-half shirt. But it’s France’s fly-halves who could do with some coaching tips from one of the game’s greatest ever kickers.
One of the more curious statistics in international rugby concerns the individual record points scorer. Top of the tree is New Zealand’s Dan Carter. Last Saturday against France, the Kiwi fly-half scored his 1,399th point in Test rugby on his 95th appearance. Carter is now comfortably clear of Jonny Wilkinson, the former England and Lions star having racked up 1246 points in his 97 Tests. Third is Welshman Neil Jenkins (currently in Australia as the Lions kicking coach) on 1090, just seven more than O’Gara managed.
A Kiwi, an Englishman, a Welshman and an Irishman. Fifth on the list is an Italian, Diego Dominguez, while Wallaby great Michael Lynagh and South Africa’s Percy Montgomery also make the top ten of target men.
But where is the highest placed Frenchman? Not in the top ten, nor in the top twenty, not even in the top thirty. To find France’s record points scorer one has to trawl all the way down to Christophe Lamaison in 33rd spot. The former Brive fly-half scored 380 points in his 37 Test matches, seven more than Dimitri Yachvili managed, and thirteen more than Thierry Lacroix.
It’s an astonishing statistic. That one of the major powers in the world game has never possessed a world-class goalkicker, a player they could rely on to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Every other of the so-called ‘Big Ten’ have managed it, so too have Fiji (Nicky Little, 670 points), Canada (James Pritchard, 500 points) and even Georgia can brag about the 435 points scored by Merab Kvirikashvili. But France…
Their deficiency in the goalkicking department was never more evident than during Saturday’s third Test defeat to New Zealand. The French lost 24-9 but the scoreline flattered the Kiwis who were under the cosh for much of the first half. Twice France were awarded kickable penalties but scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain missed them both.
The previous week in the second Test, Frederic Michalak had skewed an early sitter, a kick that had it gone over might have settled French nerves. Instead it added to the visitors’ apprehension and they ended up on the wrong end of a 30-0 thrashing. Michalak, by the way, unlikely ever to play international rugby again after his disastrous display in the second Test, has totted up 362 points over the course of his 66 Tests.
The player many French supporters see as the long-term successor to Michalak is Bordeaux-Begles’ Camille Lopez. The 24-year-old made a decent fist of his debut in the first Test against New Zealand, only to be unceremoniously dumped from the side for the second Test in favour of Michalak. Lopez is that rare thing in France, a goal-kicking fly-half. In last season’s Top 14 he finished fifth in the points-scoring list with 232 from 18 starts, a tidy return for a player whose club only narrowly avoided relegation.
If France have serious aspirations about winning the World Cup in two years time, it might be an idea for the FFR to bring Lopez and O’Gara together, and give France a goal-kicker to be proud of.